Since D-day, I have suffered PTSD-type flashbacks. I can’t tell when a flashback is lurking until it’s pulling me in. Something will trigger me and I will feel that twisting of my stomach. I can never tell if that trigger is just going to make me feel sad or if it will spiral into a full-blown flashback. Sometimes I think I stop it with deep breaths. I focus on the sound of my breathing in and breathing out all the toxins. I imagine myself in a happy moment where I am in control and feel good. For me, that’s in the middle of a dance routine. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
When breathing and imaging dance doesn’t work, and I am sucked into a flashback, there is nothing I can do to fight it. It is overwhelming. Sometimes it’s so bad I cannot function and I cannot think clearly enough to even try to get out of it. But at some point, I think it’s only a few minutes, I realize that it is not real. I have been there before and I have gotten out before. I close my eyes and acknowledge that I am in a flashback. I have been trying too hard to be normal and meet the demands of life. My heart needs to feel the pain for a while. I let the pain take over. In this state, it’s better if I just shut down and go to bed. If I can’t and I need to function, I can, but with great difficulty. I cannot do any thinking or reasoning. I can move about and cook dinner, and make sure my grandbaby is ok, but that takes great effort. In my mind, I am in my living room with my husband’s laptop. My heart is all over the floor. I cannot see straight. It’s very hard to function when this is playing in my head, but I can if I have to. It’s like watching two TV shows at the same time. The flashback will not end until I have allowed my heart to cry enough and that always takes shut down time.
At some point I can feel that my heart has let out enough pain. Then I have learned to create a daydream of sorts. I tell myself that there is a way out even though I cannot see it yet. I look for the chi inside me. I focus on it… my chi burning like a glowing ball inside of me. My chi flows into my hands, which are so heavy. My chi helps them to reach out to God. I lift my pain to Him and call out for help. Help me, Lord, I have fallen back inside my hole. Sometimes He just embraces me for a while before He lifts me up. Sometimes He lifts me straight up. As I come out, the weight of the pain is lifted. But I will generally remain sad for the rest of the day, or sometimes days. I have not been able to just get up and move on, but this daydream has made coming out faster and easier.
So there you have one of my weirdest struggles. It doesn’t sound like flashbacks I have seen on TV or read about. But that’s how they work for me.
On Saturdays, my husband and I go to exercise class together. This past Saturday we went in separate cars because I had an errand to run beforehand. After class he said he was going to the bank. So I went home. An hour later he was still out. The bank is very near our gym. Huge trigger – him staying out on weekends. He used to spend all his weekend afternoons talking to her. Today he knows very well that not knowing where he is on weekends is a huge trigger for me. He has witnessed me in a flashback when he has done this before. So he had to have been doing it on purpose. My stomach was twisting and I knew I was spinning into a flashback. I needed to do something. I could no longer just let it control me. So I opened the notes from a discussion I had had with my therapist. In dealing with flashbacks,he said to create distraction. Take control.
I read it again. In that session, I gave the above description of what a flashback is generally like for me. I read it again and a third time again. It struck me that this was ridiculous. My husband had ridiculed me about it a few days prior and he said I was being ridiculous. He was right! Tactless, but so right. What was I fighting against? Myself. My own mind. My mind was where these flashbacks lived. It was not real. My mind played it out. There was nothing real to attach it to. My husband caused the original trauma, but he was not causing this flashback. That was my own doing. In my old fear of heights, there was an element of truth in that I could get hurt if I fell. And still I managed to overcome that fear. But in this case, there was nothing really there to fear. I was by myself. The only thing my husband was doing was playing with my mind. Was my mind going to be weak? Was I going to allow him to play me this way? I read my notes again and again. I got stronger as I did. Reading my own description about my flashbacks somehow allowed me to see it from a different perspective. It became something to study – how do I express that – it moved my flashbacks from emotion and fear to reasoning and thinking. Is that it? I think it is.
My stomach stopped twisting. I was still upset at my husband, but I was not going to allow a flashback to occur. And it didn’t. I don’t know if this will work every time, but it worked on Saturday. I was emotionally drained afterward, but I was ok. I’m still a little down, but not in that hole.
My husband later said that on Saturday he left class and went shopping after the bank. His explanation still leaves at least an hour unaccounted for. But whatever, I’m done with that. If he was hoping to gain some control with that move, he lost.
AND I WON in a battle against a flashback! Major victory! I’m not ready to say it is over, but I’m at the top of the hill right now. Not any better off in my relationship with my husband, but inside myself, I am much better.